Getting Back to the Basics: Healthy Eating

Getting Back to the Basics: Healthy Eating

By Laurie Schubert, PhD RD LDN, Team Dietitian

It’s the new year, and all of last year’s dietary transgressions must be overcome!  Sound familiar?  It’s so easy to let the holidays take over our eating habits as once-a-year treats appear in our homes and offices.  Now it’s time to regain control and get back into healthy eating.  Since goal setting has been covered in Coach’s Corner, I’m going to focus on the basics of healthy eating, both healthy habits and a healthy diet.

Healthy Habits

1.      Eat on a regular schedule, beginning with breakfast.  A recent article indicates that eating regularly increases our metabolic rate.[i] Our daily feeding pattern regulates liver proteins that directly affect our metabolism.  Skipping meals causes a dip in the metabolic rate.  If you get into a long-term habit of skipping meals, your metabolism is consistently depressed.  Missing breakfast is particularly problematic, leading to flagging energy and concentration in the morning and consistent overeating later in the day.[ii] Additional benefits of eating regularly include improved strength and endurance, better concentration, and a consistent supply of energy and nutrients to support optimal functioning all day long.

2.      Eat in a thoughtful manner.  Think about how much you eat and what you eat.  Consider hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being ravenously starving, and 10 being the post-Thanksgiving meal food coma.  Plan to eat when you’re a little hungry, around a 3 on the scale.  Eat slowly, enjoying your food.  Stop eating when you’re not hungry, but not stuffed, around a 7 or 8.  This deliberate approach curbs overindulgence and promotes maintenance of a healthy weight.  Also, think carefully about treats.  Do you really need one?  And what will you have?  Contemplate a small portion of a higher quality treat over a larger portion of a lower quality version.  An effective way to promote mindful eating is to always eat at a table.  Avoid eating in front of the TV, at the desk, while reading, or in the car.  This allows you to concentrate on the flavors and textures of the food, noticing your hunger levels along the way.

3.      Get reacquainted with normal portion sizes.  Spend a day measuring out cereal with a measuring cup, pouring beverages into a cup of known size, and squeezing mustard into a measuring spoon before adding it to a sandwich.  Don’t forget to consider the dishes you use every day.  Figure out what a normal portion size looks like on your plates, in the reusable plastic tubs you take for lunch, and in your favorite prepackaged foods.  You only have to do this a couple of times to know which glass to reach for in the morning or how much peanut butter to spread on your sandwich.  As an added benefit, you know how many servings are really in that package of chips!  How do you know what a portion is?  Check the Nutrition Facts panel on processed foods.  Portions of whole foods are listed below.

Healthy Diets

1.      Select lean meats and beans as protein sources.[iii] That fresh sausage tastes great, but it shouldn’t be an every day menu item.  Instead choose leaner cuts of meat and prepare them well.  Not into cooking?  There are options for you in the frozen aisle and at the deli counter.  Pick up a rotisserie chicken, and then discard the skin and fat.  Often these come with various herbs and in a low sodium version.  Love to cook?  The cuts of meat, fish and fowl available in the Chicagoland area are immeasurable.  For vegetarians or carnivores expanding their horizons, a mix of beans and whole grains throughout the day can provide complete protein with the extra benefit of fiber.  Portion sizes: 1 ounce cooked meat or fish, ¼ cup cooked dry beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon nut butter, ½ ounce (1/4 cup) nuts.  Portions/day: 5-6.

2.      Be whole.  Make at least half of your grains whole grains.  Whole grains are excellent sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals.  Refined grains lose those valuable commodities, and only a small fraction of the native nutrients are added back as enrichment.  How can you tell if your product is made of whole grains?  These days, manufacturers trumpet that information from the front of the package, but the best way is to check the ingredient list.  It should contain the words “whole wheat” or “whole grain.”  There are several other grains available in local stores, including barley, quinoa, brown rice, oats, buckwheat, and millet.  Portion sizes: 1 1-ounce slice bread, 1 cup cereal, ½ cup cooked grain.  Portions/day: 6-11.

3.      Choose healthy fats.  An easy shortcut: healthy fats are usually liquid at room temperature.  Focus on plant-based oils such as olive, canola, or vegetable.  Fats that are solid at room temperature, such as butter, shortening, and most animal fats, should be limited.  Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.  Nuts, nut butters and avocados contain healthy fats, as do some butter-type spreads, even though they are solid at room temperature.  Also, limit the quantity of fat used when cooking and added at the table.  Sauté foods in a teaspoon of oil, not a couple of tablespoons.  Avoid trans fats by choosing whole foods or processed foods showing 0 grams of trans fats in the Nutrition Facts panel.  Portion size: 1 teaspoon oil, butter, or butter-type spread, 2 tablespoons nut butter, 1 ounce nuts, ½ avocado.  Portions/day: 5-7.

4.      Consume low fat dairy or a comparable substitute.  Dairy is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D, potassium, protein, and at least six other vitamins and minerals.  Most of these are available through other foods, but calcium and vitamin D are more difficult to get in the required amounts.  Substitute fortified soymilk or orange juice to gain these nutrients if dairy isn’t an option.  Other sources of calcium include fortified cereals, dark leafy greens, black beans, and canned fish with bones (think sardines).  Vitamin D can be made in the skin with sunlight, or found through fortified foods and some mushrooms.  Portion size: 1 cup milk, fortified soymilk, orange juice, or yogurt, 1 ½ ounces cheese.  Sorry!  Ice cream doesn’t count.  Portions/day: 3.

5.      Don’t forget the fruits and vegetables.  This is an area that nearly everyone can improve on!  Consider trying a new fruit or vegetable.  Why?  There are hundreds of options in every store and ethnic groceries only expand the selection, dozens of preparations for fruits and vegetables, and seasonal variation.  Work toward consuming a variety of colors, particularly dark green and orange, every day.  Fruit often comes in its own packaging, and there are pre-cut and microwavable fruit and vegetable options for people on the go.  Portion size: 1 cup raw or cooked fruit or vegetable, 8 ounces 100% juice, 2 cups leafy vegetables, ½ cup dried fruit.  Portions/day: 5-9.

The amounts listed above are for a normal, healthy person, not an athlete.  Athletes often require more calories, so the number of servings increases proportionately.  If you need assistance with eating to support your athletic pursuits, setting a race day nutrition plan, or getting nutrition therapy for a medical issue, give me a call!

Laurie Schubert is the Team Dietitian at Experience Triathlon.  She specializes in working with clients to meet nutritional needs and goals within the boundaries of food preferences, cooking ability, medical limitations, and budget.  She has a particular interest in sports nutrition, but gets personal satisfaction from encouraging people in weight loss, finding the right meal plan for a diabetic, and watching young children learn to enjoy a variety of foods.

[i]Vollmers C, Gilla, S, DiTacchioa, L, Pulivarthya, SR, Lea, HD, and Panda, S. Time of feeding and the intrinsic circadian clock drive rhythms in hepatic gene expression.

PNAS. 2009;106(50):21453–21458.

[ii] Schlundt, DG, Hill, JO, Sbrocco, T, Pope-Cordle, J, Sharp, T. The role of breakfast in the treatment of obesity: a randomized clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr l992;55:645-651.

[iii] 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  United States Department of Agriculture, Dietary Guidelines.  Available at: Accessed on December 23, 2009.

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